Thursday, February 08, 2018

It's still cold

Not as cold as it has been, but still.

Part of the boiler system that leads to heat in the lab rooms and the faculty offices broke. That was partly why it was so freezing Monday (no one monitors these things over the weekend, so I guess the whole heating system just shut itself down and started blowing cold air). It was MISERABLE Monday. It was 55 F in the lab where I taught. (As I reported: when I got home, I had to get into bed with hot buckwheat bags for a couple of hours.

(I am trying not to freak myself out that this lack-of-cold-tolerance, something I don't remember from my younger days, is a symptom of some new awful chronic health thing I will have to deal with. I doubt it could be Type II diabetes, as that usually comes with fatigue, increased hunger and thirst, and increased urination, and the fatigue I had last fall has actually improved, and my appetite is no greater than it was in the past, and I don't seem unusually thirsty. And I'm worrying about "hypothyroid?" given my concerns that my hair has seemed a bit lackluster of late, but then again - it's been very dry here and using a moisturizing shampoo seems to help.. And anyway, I have a checkup next week and that probably means bloodwork in a couple more weeks, so I'll find out for sure, but....probably nothing is actually wrong. And I have found the new, more vegetable-heavy diet does, darn it, make me feel physically better.. "Darn it" because vegetables are kind of boring and there are some I actually CAN'T eat (most of the cucurbits and things related to carrots), so that limits the options even more).

But anyway. Trying to tell myself, "Of course being in a 55 degree room in "indoor" clothes would lead to any normal person being cold, don't be silly. You are not Elsa the Ice Queen no matter how much you wish you could be."

The problem is apparently bigger than a broken part, as per e-mails that came out today. People are scrambling to move classes when they can. A heater has been obtained for the lab I teach in this afternoon. Plans are in place to have space heaters going this weekend (! I hope they have someone monitoring them) so it doesn't get so icy cold in here. (I still have not made up my mind. I have work I must do, either Friday afternoon or during the day Saturday. They are sort of predicting freezing rain "some time Saturday afternoon" which tells me that if I'm making a run to Sherman, I better do it Friday. But coming in HERE, if it's gonna be cold....I don't know.)

But yeah. This is the kind of thing that makes me tired. Yes, I suppose it could happen anywhere. But it does feel....symbolic, somehow. For the past several years we've been "doing more with less" and since fall 2015 it's really come home to us how much "less" there is to try to do with. (See also: the roof always leaks when it rains). And this just feels like another thing.

And, I don't know. Part of me goes "you should even be happy you have a job" and especially "you should be happy the challenges you face are unpleasant environmental things, not toxic colleagues or a bullying boss" but also I just get so tired of it all....of being cold in the winter (and sometimes hot in the summer), and of having to use "model organisms" in lab because if I want to use crickets, there's no easy way to obtain those kinds of things on short notice, and I don't fancy spending $20-$30 on crickets out of my own pocket for a single lab exercise. And of buying my own batteries for the colorimeters, and now, it looks like, maybe buying a few packs of Sharpies because someone found the "secret stash" (also bought from my own pocket) of them and made off with them just wears a person down.

Yes, I know every schoolteacher in the nation does this. That doesn't mean it's right.

And it does seem like the death-of-1000-papercuts is going on, with the budget cutting AND the general assumption out in "the world" that we are all dangerous radicals who are teaching their children Wrong Things and we are also lazy bums who collect six-figure paychecks for about twelve hours of work a week, and that's just not true.....I mean, I don't deny there might be profs who fit the stereotype, but....

And yes, I know, I have money to spend on yarn and books and make-up and all that junk so I probably shouldn't be complaining about $30 worth of crickets, but....again, it's a principle thing.

The other thing that wears on me are the ongoing hints of How Things Are Going To Change. We have partnered with a....I guess you call it an online-program-management business? And they are promoting a very specific model: degrees with all-online classes, and the classes run in seven-week intensive blocks, with classes optimally repeating six times a year (!) and I have a hard time wrapping my head around that, as used as I am to the sixteen-week semester. (And I guess that means you get two-week breaks, when you get them? I don't know). And the concern is that because this is something that (a) makes money for the company involved and (b) seems to be raising enrollment, there's going to be increasing pressure for ALL of us to do this.....and questions have begun to be raised about "could faculty be forced to do this or be told "sorry, no more tenure for you"?" and it's not ENTIRELY clear and as I've said many times before, I really dislike uncertainty and turmoil, and so having the thought in the back of my head that I might NOT be able to work out the next 11 years (when I can retire with full benefits) teaching the way I want to (and the way I think my talents fit with) and of course that raises ALL kinds of worries: I'm not enough of a superstar to get an academic job (the ones that will remain) somewhere else. And I don't want to move somewhere else because even though other places might pay more, the cost of living is higher, and here I own a house free and clear, and somewhere else I might wind up with a small apartment - or a roommate - or being in an endless round of house-hunting (I have heard the horror stories from some cities, where you offer over the asking price and are willing to accept almost anything, but wind up getting scooped by the faster or better-connected). Or do I want to "retool" and try to make enough money here to live on until I feel like I can start cashing out my retirement accounts? And then, what would I do? There aren't a whole lot of jobs for someone like me....Anything involving a lot of "customer service," while I would probably be good at being servile when required, would probably mean I go home and cry a lot. And that would probably not be good for me. Also those jobs - I see this some early mornings at the wal-mart - where you have to do "team building" happy-clappy stuff, it makes me cringe, and the thought of having to do that....well, that's another thing I'd go home and cry over.

So I don't know. This morning, my chair approached me about teaching over the summer. I still said no, she mentioned something about how a colleague of mine who teaches an online class in stats with them might want to offer it over the summer....and I admit I got gently territorial. I said something along the lines of I would not like to see "my" stats class go away if we go to a more online model. But I did hold out an olive branch - after all, the other botanist here is retiring in four or five years, and I may wind up HAVING to pick up his two specialty classes (given the lack of funds, and seeming lack of will in some higher offices to open up tenure track lines when someone retires). So I don't know. My chair got back to me and said, no, the loss of "my" stats class wasn't going to happen, but....I'm Gen-X, I'm a cynic, I know that people over her head could pull enough strings to make it happen if it were going to happen.

(I will confess I looked up the group we have partnered with online, and there are some very harsh reviews by people who used to work for them, about how they were a stress-filled workplace and were patronizing to their employees, and I get that that's people who work directly in the management side, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of that attitude slopped over into how profs got treated...)

And I don't know. I don't know how much of this is me being a Gen-Xer who saw periods of time where people just got so screwed over in their jobs that it made me gun-shy, or if I grew up in too comfortable a surroundings and a little hardship is throwing me too much for a loop, or if I'm just catastrophizing, or if there really IS a voice behind me quietly whispering "Get.....out....." and I'm trying to ignore it. I don't know.

If I did leave, 100% of the reasons would be funding issues and how higher ed is changing - I still enjoy teaching a lot, I still enjoy my students and try to give them good value (in terms of education) for their tuition dollars, really does seem a lot of the good things about teaching college (and heck, maybe GOING to college) are being done away with in the name of cold efficiency, extreme cost-savings, and a sort of utilitarian mindset where things that directly apply to getting a job are valued and things that only indirectly apply are swept away.

I don't know. I worry a lot about the future. I mean, I always kind of did, but I think I worry MORE now. Because now I feel like my continued employment is not necessarily 100% under my control, where it used to be that "as long as I don't screw up bad, personally, I can keep doing this." Now, who knows? Our funding could be yanked away next month. Or we could be told, "You're merging with the university up the road from you, so you get to decide who from each department gets to stay" and because I have less seniority and fewer publications (I think) than the person in my position up the road, I'd be gone....or we could be told, "We're going 100% online, if you want to work on the new intensive rotation, great, otherwise, nice knowing you..." And I don't know.

And yes, I expect zero loyalty. I've seen it happen to other people in other careers, why should I be any more special?

Again: I love teaching. But I hate what higher ed seems to be becoming: another bimodal system where there's Harvard and Yale for the very bright, very wealthy, or very well-connected, and for everyone else there's a patchwork degree made up of online courses and maybe a few in-person courses taught by scared people looking over their shoulders....


And in the midst of all of this? The Endless Manuscript of Eternal Doom just came back, more revisions needed. I am so heartily and 100% sick of this that if my co-author weren't depending on me I might just say "you know, I withdraw it, I can't deal any more."

But because I have people depending on me, I will beat on as a boat against the current. So tired of soldiering on, of looking for the point of balance (which in our case we have not got), and of doing more with less, and pretending the New Normal isn't really just a happy-face sticker stuck on an unpleasant disimprovement.

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